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C) something else
A) let the user select a radius (2, 5, 10, 25 miles) and then display all of the stores within that radius, or
Yes, that would be an option and one that I'm currently using which works just fine.
B) grab the closest 20 (or some number) stores and then give the user the option to expand the search.
A and B are going to overlap in most instances. The results are going to be usually displayed with the closest location (first) to the entered zip code.
Best thing to do is keep it simple. Advanced searches are rarely used. If they are used frequently, then that means you may want to take a look at the front end to see if the default results are not what they should be. For instance, in a zip code search, the simplest method would be for them to first enter their zip and then click search. The results would be ordered to show the closest locations first.
Adding the radius feature brings another level of refining their search but if you do this by default, you can eliminate that extra step for them. Just have them enter their zip and off they go. ;)
P.S. I've had to answer more questions from users concerning the radius search that I'm about ready to elminate it and do your Plan B. :)
I've given this more thought, and have been starting to think that maybe what people are searching for influnces wether to give them search within a radius or give them the closests ones. I think it might have to with the interchangability of the result set.
For example, if someone wants a Slurpee they can get it at any 7-11 store, so just showing them the closest five stores might be best.
If someone wants to get dinner, restaurants are all very different, and some people would be willing to drive further than others for a better fit, so they should have recourse to a radius search.